Investigation done, but Sano's future still cloudy

Baseball confirms identity of Dominican talent Pirates covet, but not his age

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Major League Baseball's investigation into Miguel Angel Sano, the elite Dominican shortstop/outfield prospect the Pirates have pursued for months, has confirmed his identity but left open his age by calling it "undetermined."

The investigation is complete, according to multiple sources yesterday, but has yet to be announced.

Sano claims to be 16, the youngest age at which an international prospect can sign. If he is 16, that assures him of a higher bonus than if he is older because his potential is seen as greater.

Baseball's investigators based in the Dominican Republic performed DNA tests on Sano, as well as his mother, father and younger sister -- the latter to ensure Sano was not using a modified version of her birth certificate -- and all supported his identity, describing it in the report as "regular." The investigators also performed a bone scan on Sano to verify his age, and that showed he is in the range of 17.

A bone scan performed independently by the Pirates last month showed he is between 16 and 17.

Those scans are not seen as definitive and, along with the DNA, are just two of the five standards MLB's investigators use. The rest involve scrutinizing documents, as well as extensive interviewing of family and other acquaintances.

Sano is free to sign with any team -- as he has been since July 2, the beginning of the international signing period -- but it remains to be seen how the vague investigation result will impact that.

Rob Plummer, Sano's agent who has signed seven of the 12 richest bonuses in Dominican history, has maintained that several teams are interested in his client, including the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins. But, when MLB investigators held a hearing Wednesday in Santo Domingo with Sano, his family and some representatives, all teams were invited, and only the Pirates showed.

Afterward, Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director and representative at the hearing, said on Dominican television: "I love Sano. How many teams do you see here? It's dark outside, but I can tell you the only one here is me."

The next step for Sano will be signing with a team, then getting a visa from the U.S. consulate in the Dominican. The latter process could take a month or two, and it will involve a new investigation -- though largely using MLB's results -- to ensure Sano is not lying. With stricter standards in recent years, anyone caught lying while applying for a visa is denied entry to the U.S.

Plummer said yesterday his plan is to include a clause in any contract Sano signs that no money will be paid until he receives a visa, thus protecting any team's investment.

Asked specifically about the Pirates' status, Plummer replied, "I'm going to wait to start negotiating until I contact all other teams that might have been waiting for the investigation. I haven't decided yet when to start negotiating. Money will be the No. 1 factor in deciding where he signs."

Plummer and the Pirates have communicated only sporadically in recent weeks, even though the Pirates were the first to make a formal offer -- less than $3 million -- on July 2. There are strong indications that Sano remains close to Gayo and interested in the Pirates, but Plummer has made known that he views Sano as one of the top Dominican prospects in recent years and that he should be paid accordingly. The record bonus in that region is $4.25 million, set last year by the Oakland Athletics with Dominican pitcher Michel Inoa.

No one from the Pirates would comment.

Last year, 77 Dominican prospects signed contracts after their age was investigated and labeled "undetermined," but standards have tightened this year.

According to recent research by Baseball America, more than 300 Latin American players in the majors and minors have falsified birthdates since 2001.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at . Catch more on the Pirates and join the discussion at the PBC Blog .


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